We've talked many times in this newsletter about the holidays being a time for engagements, and it makes sense. Families are often all together, or couples choose to spend holidays in a sentimental place together. Both situations are ripe for taking big steps and celebrating them with family and friends. But what about when it comes time to have your families meet?
A wedding isn't just the joining of two people; it's also the joining of two families. Sometimes it's the joining of two cultures or two religions as well. The purpose of much wedding etiquette is to provide a framework for the two families to interact and get to know each other without causing offense - a tall order! It's not to create hard and fast rules, but instead to suggest traditional and contemporary guidelines.
For generations, formal etiquette assigned hosting duties of the first parent meeting to the groom's family. It was presumed that the marrying couple were too young to know the social obligations associated with this level and type of entertaining, so to be safe, the parents ran the show. This was also the first or second introduction for most of these young couples to the world of adult entertaining so there was much to learn and absorb along the way.
Today, engaged couples are usually perfectly capable of arranging and facilitating a meeting between their respective parents if they don't already know each other.
Traditionally the groom's parents reached out to the bride's parents soon after they've all learned of the engagement. Today it doesn't really matter who makes the first move. If you're the parents of the bride, give the groom's parents a few days to honor the tradition. The key here is that the parents get in touch with each other in the spirit of friendship, so this isn't the time to stand on ceremony.
Whichever set takes the initiative, a phone call or an email is a good way to introduce yourselves and set up a date to meet with the "kids" to celebrate the good news. Even if it's not possible for the parents to get together at this point, aim to establish a line of communication so that when planning questions arise, you feel comfortable calling each other.
The engaged couple can also smooth the way and help parents get the ball rolling by arranging and hosting the first parental get-together themselves.
As with all invitations, the person doing the inviting does the hosting and paying. So if the groom's parents invite the bride's parents to Sunday brunch, the groom's parents pick up the tab, and vice versa. Hosting at home is a great option, if possible, because it removes the "who pays" awkwardness from that first meeting.
The bride and groom are in the best position to know what kind of gathering is most likely to put everyone else at ease. A casual event, such as a barbecue or a casual dinner, is often most comfortable. But if one set of parents has a more formal lifestyle than the other, a good compromise might be a dinner or weekend brunch at a nice mid-range restaurant.
The couple is also likely to know how to manage their family dynamics. If parents are divorced and not amicable, arrange separate meetings with each set of parents so that everyone involved has a chance to meet. Don't force divorced parents into social situations that have the potential to make them - and others - feel uncomfortable. It's one thing to invite them all to a large event, but quite another to gather less than friendly parent sets in a small space together with no one else as a buffer. As much as you may want to have your parents put aside grievances in honor of your wedding, it may be too much to hope for. By thinking about the realities of these relationships you can best determine what will be most considerate and respectful for all involved.